How to recognize when you are a caregiver and find caregiver resources
Are you a family member, friend or neighbor who has a significant personal relationship, and provides assistance for, an older person or adult with a chronic or disabling condition? If so, you are a caregiver.
You may also hear the term “informal caregiver” or “care partner” for the assistance you are providing. You may also hear the term“formal caregivers” which refers to a person who provides assistance through a formal service, whether as a paid worker (such as a nurse aide) or a volunteer.
You may realize you are caregiver suddenly. Perhaps you have visited your uncle recently, and you realize he needs more assistance in his current living situation—or perhaps your mother moved in with you following an accident.
For some people the transition to becoming a caregiver is gradual. It starts with giving your mother a few rides to appointments and stores, then as her health declines, you find yourself taking on more and more responsibilities. Maybe you take on so much responsibility that you feel overwhelmed.
Whether you provide care for your aging mother full time, call regularly to check up on your grandfather, or support your adult child with a disability, you may be looking for ways to relieve some of your burden and develop a better plan for care. The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. Many people are in your current situation and we are here to provide you find support for your loved ones—and to find support
How did I become a caregiver?
Becoming a partner in the care of a loved one can be a gratifying and life-giving experience. But it often isn’t easy. Many didn’t ever expect to be in this role. Some adult children find themselves in difficult situations, as they may be called upon to care for parents with whom they have not spoken in years. Many caregivers face barriers such as a tight financial situation, especially if caregiving duties take time away from their job, or live several states away from their loved ones. In all of these scenarios, empowerline can help.
Who is prone to caregiver burnout?
The short answer is everyone who is a partner in care. It’s hard to know where to start with caring for aging loved ones or individuals with disabilities. One day, things may seem steady and normal. The next, you may be facing every complication at once.
As a caregiver, both the joys and the responsibilities may seem similar to raising children—but in parenting, there are many predetermined milestones as your kids grow and climb through different grades. Being a caregiver of an older person or an individual with disabilities has no rulebook. Every situation is different, and there may be no end in sight to the stress and growing list of concerns. If an accident or illness occurs and lands your loved one in the hospital, you may suddenly find yourself speaking with a hospital discharge planner who asks you what your plan is, but you don’t have a clue. We’re here to help you navigate the options for the long-term and the day-to-day care.
How to prevent caregiver burnout
First, take a seat and a deep breath. Take a few minutes to write down all of your biggest concerns, then identify what tasks and responsibilities are stressing you out. If you are able to identify your pain points, it will be easier to ask for help with specific challenges when accessing resources. Then, find support for yourself, like the resources below.
And educate yourself. Begin by understanding the conditions and needs of the person for whom you are caring. Does your mother have dementia? How can you find out more about her condition? What about Parkinson’s Disease or stroke? Understanding her condition will help you make informed, proactive decisions about the types of services she needs now – or may need in the future.
Understanding the options and making a plan
Caregiving is a partnership. So never forget to look for opportunities for your loved one to be in control of his own life. Even if he has memory loss from dementia or functional loss from arthritis, he is still a person with goals, preferences, and emotions. Many prefer to use the term “care partner” to recognize that the relationship and decision-making should never leave out the person receiving the care and services.
Making a plan usually includes both a plan for the services and supports needed plus a stable housing situation. And don’t forget that the most stable housing situation could be familiar place where the person lives now – with the right supports put in place. It’s important to remember that what works today may change as your loved one’s goals and needs change.
It’s normal to feel as though finding a facility for an individual needing long-term care is the only option. Residential options that combine the services and the housing into one package may seem like a convenient option. But, with the assistance of low-or no-cost services delivered straight to his door, you may be able to continue to arrange for care for your loved one in his home. You will hear these services called “home and community-based services” or HCBS. Not only is home often the most affordable option, but it may also be the place where your loved one will live his happiest, healthiest life, surrounded by a familiar setting and community.
If a move to a residential option with services is the best fit, empowerline can help with that too. We can help you sort through the various options available for older persons and individuals with disabilities. We can give you tools to help you search for – and understand the differences between—short-term rehabilitation, nursing homes, assisted living, personal care homes, and community living arrangements. We can also help you understand about independent living options, senior-only apartments, and Continuing Care Retirement Communities or “CCRCs.”
It’s important to also understand the costs of housing and services — what your loved one can afford and what might be covered by health insurance or other assistance options such as Medicaid and Medicare. You may be surprised by what insurance (even public programs like Medicare) covers – and what it doesn’t! Most people mistakenly assume that Medicare pays for long-term care, but, with the exception of short-term rehabilitation or skilled nursing services, Medicare does not generally pay for ongoing nursing home or in-home services.
Speaking of money, you may find that you are also becoming a “financial caregiver” as your mother needs assistance in managing her financial decisions. We recommend that financial caregivers use the “Managing Someone Else’s Money” guides put out by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They even have Georgia-specific guides.
Caregiver resources—caregiver consultation and caregiver support groups
Empowerline offers a phone-based consultation for caregivers. We partner with the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging (BRI) and Rosalynn Carter Caregiving Institute to provide caregivers with a service called a BRI Care Consultation. We can provide a certified care coordinator to speak with you monthly, help create an action plan, and identify steps that you can take to improve your situation. This can be a great first step to making a care plan and identifying what resources are right for you and your loved one. You can call to receive consultations at a time that is convenient for you. Download this BRI Care Consultation sheet to get started.
Also, if you have recently realized you are a caregiver or are feeling overwhelmed, we recommend looking into Powerful Tools for Caregivers. This series of workshops helps caregivers learn to reduce stress, communicate their needs to family members, and how to make tough caregiving decisions. Sessions focus on communication strategies, finding common ground with a person who is distressed, communicating with a person who is memory impaired, understanding how to manage family meetings, making an action plan for self-care, learning relaxation techniques, and identifying constructive ways to deal with difficult feelings. For more information on attending a Powerful Tools for Caregivers workshop in your area, download our flyer.
To support yourself as a caregiver, you should adopt the oxygen-mask philosophy. Take care of yourself before giving care to others.
While you are performing an immensely selfless service to your family members, it will be difficult to take care of them if you are not taking good care of yourself. If you overexert yourself trying to care for your loved one and live your own life at the same time, you risk:
- Draining your immune system and becoming sick yourself
- Facing depression and isolation
- Becoming very frustrated and short-tempered with the person for whom you are trying to care
If you are feeling stressed, reach out to the people around you. If your other family members, neighbors, and coworkers understand your situation, they may be able to offer help and understanding that makes a world of difference to you.
If you cannot get support from your friends and family, there are many other support options available to you. We can connect you to a variety of services that help with chores, errands, and additional supports or day services so that you can have a chance to take a break. Short-term services to give the caregiver a break are often referred to as respite care, which means giving you some relief, an opportunity to recharge or focus on other priorities.
Explore these additional resources from some leaders in caregiving:
Family Caregiver Alliance
This organization addresses the needs of families and friends providing long-term care for loved ones at home. We recommend exploring their excellent resource, A Caregiver’s Bill of Rights.
National Alliance for Caregiving
This organization focuses on advancing family caregiving through research, innovation, and advocacy. Through their site you can find your local or state coalition.
This organization provides many resources for family caregivers for persons who have been diagnosed with dementia.
This organization offers many guides and tools on how to be a caregiver, from the basics to what you should do in specific caregiving scenarios.
Have more questions on how to be a caregiver?
Contact empowerline. Our skilled specialists will ask you a few questions about your situation and help you identify what solutions are best for you. They can recommend in-home services and other types of assistance, including services for individuals who would qualify for a nursing home but would rather live in their own homes or with their caregivers. These specialists can also connect you to support groups so that you can start to build a community with people who can understand and empathize with you.
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